Millions of six-year olds are right.
Vegetables can be scary.
We humbly and emphatically support their hypothesis with our research as we dissect that staple of the American horror diet, Children of the Corn.
The blood’s not too hard to swallow, but the sheer concept could unsettle the steely-ist of guts and will ensure that your tank remains on full should you ever cross the Nebraska line. And it’s even fortified with a little well-balanced theology.
So lend an ear, gnaw through the stringy portions and digest slowly. Who knows?
You may even ask for seconds.
In October, 2006, emo-rockers My Chemical Romance released their magnum opus, The Black Parade. One the most popular singles from that seminal work was a commentary on postmodern youth, entitled “Teenagers.” The chorus (paraphrased slightly so as not to overly offend) went like this:
“They say all teenagers scare the living sh– out of me
They could care less as long as someone’ll bleed
So darken your clothes or strike a violent pose
Maybe they’ll leave you alone, but not me.”
Pity MCR frontman and lyricist, Gerard Way, hadn’t penned that gem about twenty years prior. It would’ve made one heck of an apropos closing credits song for this week’s farm-raised fright flick, Children of the Corn.
This simple little horror tale was based upon a simple little short story by the modern master, Stephen King.
Ironically, King’s screenplay was rejected, though his name still gets top billing on the opening title. New World Pictures opted to go with the less plot-heavy but more violent adaptation penned by George Goldsmith, screenwriter for the likely-forgotten Hot Child in the City, Nowhere to Hide and Force Five. But his formula for COTC yielded a bountiful crop of green: New World made more than $13.5 million on its $800,000 investment. It went on to spawn eight (you read that correctly) sequels, most of which went straight-to-video, along with one made-for-TV movie (not, incidentally, on the Hallmark Channel).
But it was the creepiness of the 1984 original that planted the seed. There are few outright scares in COTC, but the concept is enough to make you want to place your kids on permanent, ankle bracelet-laden house arrest. And do the same to their friends. On second thought, just lock them in the basement to make sure they never make friends. Just don’t let them end up like the kids in Gatlin, Nebraska.
That’s because nearly all the kids in Gatlin have a thing about adults. They, well…kill them.
It’s on a Sunday, right after church, when everything goes sideways in Gatlin. A few months prior, in the height of a drought, an odd little man-child named Isaac wandered into town, declaring himself the prophetic mouthpiece for a Baal-like agricultural deity he calls “He-Who-Walks-Behind-the-Rows.” In the meantime, he seduced Gatlin’s children like a Satanic Pied Piper, turning them against their parents. It’s on that Sunday, when most of the other children and teens are out in the withering cornfields worshiping the fabled corn-god that the murders begin.
Job, a young boy unwillingly drawn into the madness, narrates the opening. Job’s father, who got the big-time heebs from Isaac, carried Job with him to church that morning to keep him out of the cornfields. They go out for lunch at a local diner afterward, and all the adults inside—including Job’s father—are beset upon by a group of teens who hung back to commit the murders. Job and his sister Sarah (who was home sick on the day of the murders and instantly developed a talent for prophetic drawing thereafter) are then assimilated into the corn-cult as more and more murders occur. Soon all the adults in Gatlin are offered up as ritual sacrifices, and only the children–dressed like Dust Bowl survivors with a penchant for sharp things–are left.
This ends unfortunately for Burt (Peter Horton) and Vicky (Linda Hamilton), a couple who’ve set both their shaky relationship and their Buick on cruise control as they head out on a cross-country road trip three years later. While passing through the outskirts of Gatlin, they run into (literally) a youngster named Joseph who is trying to escape the cult. He wanders out of a cornfield into the road just as Burt and Vicky are motoring down the highway while trying to plot their course by map (the real reason Garmin was invented). Burt sees Joseph too late to avoid him. He runs over the boy, but when he gets out of the car to inspect his body, Burt (a recent med-school graduate) realizes Joseph had been dead before he’d ever set foot in the road. As he inspects Joseph’s body, Malachi—Isacc’s red-haired enforcer and chief executioner—watches him from the road.
Burt wraps Joseph in a blanket and places him in the trunk, planning to drive to Gatlin and turn his body over to the authorities. But all the road signs for Gatlin keep leading Burt and Vicky in circles. Meanwhile, Malachi finds Job and Sarah playing Monopoly in their old house and listening to records—forbidden practices according to Isaac. Malachi brings them before Isaac, demanding they be punished. But when Isaac sees Sarah’s latest drawing—Burt and Vicky’s yellow Buick approaching town—he lets them go free, much to Malachi’s dismay.
Burt and Vicky finally find a service station, but the old attendant (who’s still alive, thanks to a bargain with Isaac) offers no help. Instead, he warns them to avoid Gatlin and light out for neighboring Hemmingford instead. Incensed, Burt and Vicky drive away. The kids attack and kill the old man, despite his devotion to keep Gatlin’s secrets secret.
Burt and Vicky resume their search for Gatlin, eventually finding the town deserted, except for a couple of teens who try to tamper with their car. When they give chase, the kids disappear. As they drive back out of town, Burt glimpses a front door swinging on an old house. Upon further investigation, he and Vicky find Sarah playing inside. She gives them just enough cryptic information to frustrate Burt, who leaves Vicky to watch over Sarah as he heads back to town to look for clues.
Malachi and his acolytes strike, capture Vicky, and take her to the corn fields as a sacrifice. In the meantime, Burt finds the other cultists preparing sacrificial rites on one of their own who is about to turn nineteen (the magic maximum age that old He-Who will allow). He breaks up the ritual, demanding to know where the kids got such a twisted sense of religion. The only answer he gets is a shank to the chest. Job finds him as he flees town, leading him back to sanctuary in an underground bomb shelter at the house where Sarah remains. Together, they hatch a plan to rescue Vicky. There’s just a couple of problems and they’re named Isaac and Malachi.
And then there’s that He-Who-Walks-Behind-the-Rows guy. Yeesh.
COTC explores many of the same themes common in King’s other works.
There’s a twisted nod to the loss of innocence that comes with the transition to adulthood (seen also in Carrie, and in other King stories like It and Sometimes They Come Back). And there’s plenty of criticism on the dangers of corrupted religion (also again seen in Carrie, Under the Dome and Silver Bullet). In addition to the deceitful Isaac, Burt and Vicky belittle the hellfire-and-brimstone preachers that seem to be the only radio traffic they can pick up on their trek once they hit Nebraska—preachers who speak not of God’s love, but only His vengeance. Anti-religious Burt ends up having the most Christ-like philosophy of all: when he confronts the cult at the film’s climax, he challenges their “faith” by reminding them that “any religion that doesn’t have love or compassion is false. It’s a lie,” he says (echoing Paul’s warning in Romans 16 for followers to reject teachers who twist Christ’s message to serve their own means).
The famous “love chapter” of the Bible—1 Corinthians 13—speaks to both of these themes (maybe Burt overheard the words at a wedding—not his own–as it seems his fear of commitment is the reason for his shaky relationship).
In that chapter, the Apostle Pauls says (paraphrased):
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing….Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails… When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
These verses are a far cry from the twisted scripture Isaac uses to warp his followers (“and a child shall lead them,” from Isaiah 11:6 is scrolled in blood on a wall of the former church the children now use as a temple). And though we see little of the kids’ backgrounds prior to the murders, it’s worthwhile to note that Job, who was the only child in church that fateful day, wants nothing to do with the cult. Perhaps more of the parents should have followed the advice of Proverbs 22: 6: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”
Who knows? They may even turn out to be Children of the Lord.